It is widely written that touch is the first sense to develop and the last to fade. The sense of touch is how we make sense of everything; it helps us to learn, protects us from danger and creates our bonds with others.
The tongue, lips and fingertips are the most touch sensitive parts of the body. Each fingertip has 3,000 touch receptors which respond to pressure. Nerves carry thousands of signals to the brain every second, helping us to determine in an instant what is hot or cold; smooth or rough; wet or dry, for instance. As the brain experiences more and more of the same touch, it filters what is important and our learned behaviour adjusts, for example, we are not constantly conscious of clothes against our skin.
Touch makes us happy
Touch stimulates the release of endorphins, which is why when a child hurts themselves, quite often a cuddle will make them better! Affectionate touch affects the physical, mental and emotional wellbeing of children.
The term ‘failure to thrive syndrome’ was coined in the early 1950s when infants separated from their birth mother often died or struggled to develop properly. Harry Harlow, a psychologist in the 1950s, conducted a study of the effects of isolation on infant monkeys. The young monkeys were separated from their parents and offered ‘surrogate’ mothers. One was made of wire and came with a bottle of milk and the other was made of wood covered in soft cloth, without a milk bottle. The monkeys clung to the soft cloth covered mother for hours ignoring the desire for food. The conclusion was that the desire for touch is stronger than the basic need for such things as food. The consensus still remains that affection is necessary for an individual’s proper development.
Touch and learn
‘For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them’ – Aristotle
How true this statement becomes when we think about the day-to-day lives of the children we care for! Children are much more engaged if they are involved physically in their learning. Talking to a child about bears hibernating in winter is not as engaging as getting the children to create a den to hibernate in whilst dressed as furry bears or describing what a snake skin feels like as opposed to letting the children touch one for themselves!
The world at our fingertips
Touch and feel bags can be used creatively for all sorts of learning at whatever age and stage the child is at – use them for describing games using shape and texture, themed learning or just for fun. By allowing the children to get their hands on the subject they are learning about, the opportunity for trial and error, learning from mistakes and developing problem solving skills is invaluable. Create a sensory nature walk using individual trays of grass, mud, sand, leaves, chippings and water; this is a fantastic way for getting children to use describing words for the different sensations, allows them new experiences and is lots of fun!
‘Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand’ –
Chinese proverb attributed to Confucius
About the author
Lisa Lane launched Sensory Scenes in 2014 with the aim to provide themed bags of fun for play, exploring and learning. With three boys of her own, she is passionate about children being able to manipulate, explore and use their imagination. Sensory Scenes’ themed bags are perfect for individual play, sensory tray play and themed subject planning.